Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Bathing Box

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by Meredith Chilson

This may sound a little questionable—but isn’t it fun to watch your chickens bathing?


My ladies have a couple of nice, deep holes under a fallen branch that they’ve scratched, kicked and dug into smooth-sided depressions just the right size for a couple of hens.  As soon as the ground has thawed and dried in the spring, the ladies are rolling and stretching, flinging dirt up onto their backs, spreading their wings and scooting sideways to sift the fine dust in between each feather shaft, rubbing their necks along the sides of the hole, hopping out to shake thoroughly—and then back in to perform the same routine over again.

Dust bathing is a necessary activity that helps chickens, and other feathered fowl, remove dead skin, external parasites, and loose feathers.  I’ve seen mourning doves and sparrows rolling in the summer dust of my driveway, so I know dust bathing isn’t just for chickens!  It’s a healing, healthy activity that I’ve even watched 3-day-old chicks perform.

Last summer, I read Harvey Ussery’s book, “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock”, and learned that dust bathing apparently isn’t just for health reasons; it’s also a sort of “chicken ritual”.  Ussery suggests building a dust box for chickens to bathe in when the weather is too wet or cold for outside access.  Directions for making Ussery’s plywood dust box are in Appendix B in his book.

Rather than build a wooden box, I thought I could use a low, plastic tub for an indoor bathing facility for the hens.  Our local dollar store has an assortment of tubs, with covers, so I bought one—dimensions are 16” x 22”.  With a 6” depth, I thought it would be perfect. 


I added a small scoop of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) for parasitic control, and part of a bag of play sand (the sort for children’s sand boxes).  The chickens were very interested.  Two of them stepped into the box, a third stepped on the side of the box, the whole thing tipped over and the hens reacted just as any ladies would if their pool tipped over.  They screamed and squawked and flapped their wings and ran as far away as possible.

Hmmm…maybe a wooden box is the answer after all!  After a couple more false starts, my husband (the carpenter/wood hoarder) and I (the director/planner) made a wood frame to hold the plastic tub.

We used untreated 2 x 6’s left from another project, and nailed them to make a finished frame 19” x 27.5”.  We “ripped” one 2x6 in half to make the top edge and lip of the frame. 






The tub fits snugly into the frame, yet lifts out for cleaning.  The lid for the tub keeps the interior dry and clean when not in use (and on sunny days when the hens can bathe outside).  










The lip on two sides of the frame gives the ladies a place to stand without tipping the whole thing over, and yet the frame (minus the filled tub) is light enough to move out for scrubbing or during coop cleaning sessions.  The tub easily holds a 50-pound bag of play sand and three large hens.




On sunny winter days, when the temperatures inside the chicken coop hover around the freezing mark, I’ve often surprised a hen doing the breaststroke in the inside dust bath.  They are curious ladies, and when we add a new bag of sand, or I stir up the old sand and add a sprinkle of DC, they crowd around and seem to want to be first to test the “waters”.

It’s a fairly shallow pool, and so after a few weeks, much of the sand has been scattered, kicked out onto the floor of the coop, or sifted into feathers and shaken off.  If I had more than a couple dozen chickens, I would make the dust box bigger—to hold a deeper tub.  For now, though, I like that it fits into a corner of the coop, and I don’t mind replacing the sand.  It gives me peace of mind knowing they are able to perform their chicken rituals and ablutions during the winter months and on rainy days.

I can tell that the girls enjoy their indoor pool, and I enjoy watching them, too!

16 comments:

  1. What a great post, thank you for sharing!
    My ladies love a good bath too! x

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    Replies
    1. Meredith/GreenCircleGroveMay 14, 2013 at 7:07 AM

      It's fun to watch them, too, isn't it?!?

      Delete
    2. I was looking at your container and thought what a good idea but with so many chickens wouldn't a child's small hard sided swimming pool be better so they were not so crowded,just a thought,Love your site,I miss having chickens..

      Delete
  2. It looks like your chicken bath box works but I think we found a simpler solution to the situation. We have a pet Silkie chicken that has always lived in the house (on my shoulder as I write) and to give her the experience and health of a dust bath we simply filled a mortar tub with play sand. When we bring it out for her she gets so excited she can hardly wait to get her diaper off before jumping in. The mortar tub is a low wide strong tub from any hardware store for about $7 and doesn't tip over. They have dozens of uses with chickens and gardening also. For the outside chickens we fenced off the back of a flower bed and keep it clear of weeds and full of loose earth....the idea being to make the flower bed less tempting to them. They spend hours daily in the 'bath'.

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    Replies
    1. Meredith/GreenCircleGroveMay 14, 2013 at 7:06 AM

      What a great idea! I'm a great one for browsing the aisles of the hardware and feed stores, but sometimes it takes someone else's suggestions to give me ideas for possibilities. Thank you!

      Delete
  3. Thanks. I'll try this it may save my asparagus bed from devastation (the favorite bath spot.) Great idea.

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  4. Thanks. I'll try this it may save my asparagus bed from devastation (the favorite bath spot.) Great idea.

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  5. I keep a wood box with 1 inch plywood over lap too keep the mixture in box under the wife's ramp so she can watch them also a casement window so they can watch us in the basement. Under the ramp they have the choice of dirt, or the mixture rain or shine on hot days they keep cool under there. My mixture is garden dirt, food grade D.E.,play sand, and sevin dust. I also mix my chicken feed with food grade D.E..

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    Replies
    1. I am very concerned about the sevin dust. Many years ago I was alerted to the dangers of Sevin from Mother Earth News. I did some research and was stunned at the chemicals that are in it and most are chemicals that cause cancer. There is a chemical called "Carboryl" in Sevin that once it touches your skin or an animals skin, it goes straight to the blood stream and never leaves the body. Lots of chemicals will "wash" out of the body over time (not that I want that in my body), but this chemical will not. I would think again about Sevin and get rid of it all. I think some of us go way overboard with our animals, forgetting that our ancestors did not have all the stuff to buy that we do and their animals did just fine. We have to remember, what we feed them and let them dust in goes into them and the eggs. Please be careful.

      Delete
  6. Will food grade diatomaceous earth(DE)keep out fleas? Last year we had a big problem with fleas in our yard and they love sand. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Meredith/GreenCircleGroveMay 14, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      Diatomaceous earth is supposed to kill all insects with exoskeletons, that would include fleas. I've read several places that it's a good, safe flea killer to rub on dogs, too. Good luck!

      Delete
  7. I put a #2 galvanized washtub 1/2 filled with some yard dirt in the temporary yard for my new birds. They seem to really like it. I will add play sand and DE when I get them all moved to the new house this weekend. Can't wait to watch the show!

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